Isles tributes paid to former piping sponsor and “true gentleman” – Robin Fleming

Robin Fleming was awarded Honorary Life Membership of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society in 2013.

The Lewis and Harris Piping Society has paid tribute to the previous sponsor of its P/M Donald MacLeod Memorial Piping Competition – Robin Fleming, who died recently aged 87.

Mr Fleming’s sponsorship of the competition ran for eight years before community wind farm organisation Point and Sandwick Trust took over in 2017, supporting the competition with £5,000 a year for five years.

The creation of this arrangement secured the prestigious event in its home town at a time when its future had been very uncertain.

Mr Fleming was chairman of Robert Fleming & Co, the merchant bank founded by his grandfather, Robert Fleming, after whom he was named.

He chose to be anonymous as the sponsor of the Donald MacLeod competition and was a strong philanthropist, famously buying back the Robert Fleming & Co art collection when the bank was sold so that it could go on public display.

He attended the competition every year that he sponsored it and was awarded Honorary Life Membership of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society in 2013.

Dr John Smith, chairman of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society, said: “Members of The Lewis and Harris Piping Society were saddened to hear of the recent death of Robin Fleming.

“Mr Fleming was a most generous sponsor of The Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition at a time when the Society was struggling to find sponsorship to maintain the competition in Stornoway. He was a charming, polite, and unassuming character, totally unostentatious.

“He originally undertook to sponsor the competition for five years but continued for another three because we were struggling to find another sponsor until Point and Sandwick Trust came along.”

Dr Smith added: “His very generous sponsorship meant that the competition survived in Stornoway, its natural home, and with PST’s continuing support, despite lockdown and pandemics, we are very hopeful that the competition will survive, although perhaps not in its customary form, this year.”

The P/M Donald MacLeod Memorial Piping Competition was set up to commemorate the musical legacy of one of Stornoway’s most famous sons, Donald MacLeod MBE (1917-1982), who was a celebrated piper, teacher, and one of the most gifted and prolific composers of piping music ever.

The competition is an invitational one, featuring eight of the current best pipers in the world, based on their performances at events during the year on the piping circuit.

It has been held in Stornoway since it was set up as a ‘living memorial’ in 1993 but there were fears it would have to be moved to the mainland to save costs before Mr Fleming came on board, following the withdrawal of its headline sponsor.

Describing Robin Fleming, P/M Morrison said: “He was so modest. There was no shortage of money with Robin but who would ever say that was the kind of person he was?

“He was so friendly. A true gentleman, in every sense of the word.”

P/M Morrison recalled one occasion at the Donald MacLeod Competition when one of the pipers played The Duke of Roxburgh’s Farewell to Blackmount Forest, a classic 2/4 March.

Someone turned to Mr Fleming and asked: “Do you know that tune?” His response was: “I know it very well. I own it.”

P/M Morrison pointed out that Mr Fleming always paid his own costs for attending the competition. He added: Without him, I don’t think we could have carried on (with the Donald MacLeod)…”

Calum MacDonald, development manager for Point and Sandwick Trust and the former MP for the Western Isles, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust were delighted to succeed Robin Fleming in supporting the Donald MacLeod piping competition.

“He stepped in to help the competition at a critical time and it is clear that his contribution was not just a financial one but one based on his personal enthusiasm and deep knowledge.”